NGI Recipient: Wang
Session Attended: CDS Boston Centre, Royal Scottish Country Dance Society - ESCape (English-Scottish-Contra) (2015)
As I look over the past few years’ NGI thank-you letters, a few motifs
emerge. In roughly descending order of frequency, the people are
nice, the music is good, the dancing is fun, the food is tasty, the
woods are beautiful.
Lacking any additional insights, I can only adopt Catherine Casiello’s
approach and excerpt a few memorable passages from my notebook:
– Monday, at dinner: Overhearing two at my table swap old Pinewoods
stories, I ask one whether he’s been coming long. With a glance at
his friend, he replies that he’s only been coming since he was
fifteen. He’s not sure whether that counts. The friend “was born
in August and started coming before that.” Now an electrician’s
apprentice, he has strong opinions about the placement of the new
light fixtures in the Pinecones outside bathroom.
– Tuesday, after lunch: The intro Scottish instructor comes across me
on the porch of our cabin. He strikes up a conversation and soon we
have an impromptu half-hour footwork lesson, just the two of us
doing skip-changes and pas de basque up and down the porch.
– Tuesday, before dinner: This is the first of several pages scribbled
over with the choreography of one particularly interesting dance or
another. Here, I have my first Morris hey.
– Tuesday, during the evening dance: I apparently feel compelled to
sit one out in order to transcribe “Sea View,” a double-progression
four-facing-four contra where we found ourselves with a new buddy
couple about five times. Although the evening program is divided
into distinct English, Scottish, and American sections, the dancers
are wonderfully promiscuous. We all dance everything, helping one
another through the unfamiliar bits. (For “Sea View,” it was later
explained to me that Scottish choreography does not usually feature
double progressions or interaction outside the minor set. But with
the Petronella double triangles of “Pinewoods Reel” to look forward
to, I find myself more empathetic than sympathetic.)
– Wednesday, lining up for dinner: I overhear the first of several
bits of Scottish country dancing lore. Dancing “Postie’s Jig” with
a broom passed from hand to hand in place of the eighth dancer.
Waddling through a strathspey with arms stiffly at your sides like a
penguin, and being admonished by the instructor for insufficient
hand turn-out. Cursing in frustration only to find the world’s
tiniest little old lady looming over you, whispering, “Don’t.
say. ‘shit.’ It. carries! Say ‘fuck.'”
– Wednesday, after the evening dance: I have simply written, “Nothing
like a slipping circle for sheer exuberance.”
– Thursday, before lunch: We’ve had a running gag of the intro
Scottish instructor addressing only the violinist. Finally the
pianist has had enough. Crossing his arms in mock indignation, he
turns away from his piano. Only when the instructor makes a point
of asking him for eight bars does he begrudgingly reply, “Seven and
a half.” Eight bars later, I hear the violinist whisper, “Do you
have any idea how hard that was?” Because true to his word, the
pianist had dropped out at seven and a half.
– Thursday, afternoon: I have simply written, “Gambols.” This is an
incredibly complicated English dance where every single person in
the four couple set has a slightly different track. We tried it at
NEFFA in 2015, and it broke my set twice. Here at Pinewoods, it
defeated me three more times. I have since asked one of my local
dance’s organizers if we could try it at home.
– Thursday, chocolate tasting: I am astonished to learn that one of
the campers has no dance experience at all. She decided to take
dance classes for her birthday, and came directly to Pinewoods. As
we said goodbye on Friday morning, I told her about trycontra.com,
where she could type in her ZIP code and see a list of her local
– Thursday, evening dance: We close with a circle mixer in waltz time
that alternates between called choreography and free-form waltzing.
Thinking back to the years I avoided waltzes (and still do) for fear
of imposing on a more experienced partner, I resolve to propose it
for my local dance.
– Thursday, last party: I find myself in a conversation with a
Scottish dancer about how dancers in each of our forms signal
competence. In contra, it’s often long flowing skirts (among
younger dancers, on the men as well). In Scottish, it’s ghillies.
She finds me at breakfast the next day to add a third: reusable name
tags, especially buttons from other weekends and balls.
– Friday, breakfast: Several people make a point of saying good bye to
me. They hug and thank me and speculate about future meetings. As
I get into the car, I realize that I have had my jacket on over my
name tag the entire morning.
In conclusion, the people are nice. The music is good. The dancing
For this wonderful experience I must thank the generous sponsorship of
CDS-BC, Pinewoods camp, and their New Generation Initiative.
The NGI targets those with “potential to increase youth participation
in the type of events that further CDS-BC’s mission.” Among the
previous scholarship recipients, I recognize multiple musicians and
callers, a techno-contra DJ, a certified Scottish teacher, the
scholarship coordinator of CDS-BC, one current and one former board
member of the Boston Intergenerational Dance Advocates, and two
organizers of Youth Dance Weekend.
It would be foolish of me to promise anything similar. But I can
wholeheartedly second Libby Chamberlin’s closing paragraph: “I
certainly hope to be back next year. I think I’d classify myself as a
‘lifer in the making.’ Thank you again for a wonderful experience.”